The following service was streamed live via Zoom on May 16th at 10:30am.
The entire text for the service is printed below for home use by those who are not ready to return to public gatherings or who are otherwise not able to be at church on the day. Even though the service is streamed live, those who are unable to participate online may use this material at any time for their private devotions. If ‘two or three’ are gathered with you, you may choose a ‘leader’ in order to use the responsive prayers and readings as you would in church.
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“Wherever law ends, tyranny begins.”(John Locke)
CALL TO WORSHIP
Let us worship God! Let us celebrate life!
Wm: Autumn is a dying time
Mn: Autumn is a blessing time
L: Emptying branches seem so stark, stripped to bare and simple bark.
R: But sleeping buds to wake next year.
PRAYER OF AWARENESS
God of good presence all around us help us to find and celebrate the goodness that is given to us in this new day. Amen.
This is a hymn that reflects 19th century thinking on two of the great Psalms from the Hebrew Scriptures. As we sing it, we do so honouring our past, even as we affirm we have moved on in our religious journey and thinking.
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Meditation: “God help us” by Ian Cowie in Eggs and Ashes, p.204.
There is a time for asking questions,
but there is also a day for decision.
There is a time to discuss who Jesus is,
but there is also a time to take up your cross and follow him.
There is a time to weigh the issues carefully,
but there are issues which will not wait until tomorrow.
If we wait until we understand everything,
we will wait for ever.
If we do not follow the light which we do see,
we will receive no more light.
If we, today, miss this opportunity then God help us.
How good it is to be alive! Yes, we feel the beat of our own hearts, the pulsing of life in our veins, the rhythm of our breathing. We come into the silence of this time with gratitude for this day. We come with our needs, and we come because we have gifts to share. In our coming and in our going may we be strengthened in our bonds of love and peace.
(30 seconds Silence)
L: God’s love is steadfast, and God’s faithfulness endures from age to age. Our love falters, and our faithfulness waxes and wanes from day to day. Let us confess our need for God.
R: Gracious God, you encourage us with your love, bringing new life our of death. We confess that we need your life-giving power in our lives and our relationships. We have hurt others and hurt by them. We are often angry or afraid. We are not sure when to assert our needs and when to care for other’s needs. We continue to live in ways which do not lead to peace and justice. forgive us, God. Pour your Spirit of wisdom and healing upon us, that by our lives and our loving, we may make you known to a needy world. Amen.
L: Hear the word of assurance from the Psalms: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and light to my path,” (Ps.119:105) and so let us rejoice for for the door to life has been opened to us.
R: Thanks be to God.
FROM THE PSALMS (A modern version of Psalm 1)
This Psalm presents a simple, straightforward comparison: either one obeys the law of Yahweh and grows like a tree; or one doesn’t follow the law and becomes like chaff. The law is portrayed as that which brings growth and strength. Thus, the message is a positive one: not that the wicked are punished, but that they have deprived themselves of the gift for life which God has provided through the Law.
There are many pathways in front of us. We see some people take pathways that turn-out to be destructive and unhealthy, but our happiness and well-being depend on us taking the pathways that keep us connected with the best purposes and with the best spirit.
Look carefully at the tree that flourishes beside the river – its leaves are healthy and it bears fruit in season. We can be like the tree, but we can forget all that and become like chaff blown in all directions by the wind.
God of all life has created in us a desire to be the best we can be. When we follow that desire, our whole being is strongly affirmed, but when we become indifferent to that desire, we lose our connection with the best purposes and the best spirit.
FROM THE GOSPELS – John 17:11b-19
In contrast to some of the “other-worldly” expressions of Christianity, John here portrays Jesus as one who sees his life as lived out in the “world.” The world was in a perilous state, and Jesus came to offer the world the opportunity to choose between Light and Darkness. It chose Darkness. The disciples stand as a challenge and a threat to the world; therefore, they are hated by the world. In his prayer, Jesus asks that the disciples be consecrated in Truth. This means that they are to adhere to Jesus’ pattern of life, his demonstration of God’s willingness to go out toward people in their weakness, and that they are to continue that pattern of life.
11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS
“He is like a tree planted by streams of water,…in all that he does, he prospers.” (Ps.1:3)
Read Psalm 1 again, and take note of any emotions these words evoke in you.
Some translations begin with not “blessed is the man”, but “happy are those.” Such people find delight in the law of the Lord; they find joy. The writer had a different sort of attitude toward law than many today and, no doubt, some of you.
A traveller was walking along the road one day when a man on horseback rushed by. There was an evil look in his eyes and blood on his hands. Minutes later a crowd of riders drew up and wanted to know if the traveller had seen someone with blood on his hands go by. They were in hot pursuit of him.
“Who is he?” the traveller asked.
”An evil doer,” said the leader of the crowd.
“And you pursue him in order to bring him to justice?”
“No,” said the leader, “we pursue him in order to show him the way.”
Modern people often see the role of law as to bring justice: an acceptable and polite word for revenge upon those who break the law. Law has, therefore, a negative connotation. It is there to constrain antisocial activities of one sort or another. Rather than contributing something positive to life, it stands to limit the negative. The motivation for law is also negative: fear. I can’t think of any human law that exists in order to create a positive quality in life. They all exist to prevent the undesirable aspects of life that people fear. It seems law exists because of a belief in an essential badness of human nature. All that we gain from obedience to human law is avoidance of punishment.
Not so with the Hebrew concept of God’s law. As we see in Psalm 1 and especially in Psalm 119, in which all 176 verses are dedicated to God’s Law, law is seen as something which exists in order to lead one into life. The theme is not reward and punishment, but resurrection and life.
Consider the image of the tree. The Psalmist says that the one who lives in the law of God is like a tree planted by streams of water. It grows strong, healthy. It bears fruit and prospers. Consider the same tree planted in the desert. It quickly withers and dies, bearing no fruit; so, too, the person who does not feed on the law. The law is not an instrument of punishment, but the source of life. There are no penalties for disobeying the law, save the natural consequence of being deprived of its nourishment.
Living in the law, according to the Psalmist, brings happiness, joy, protection, assurance. And perhaps it is the realisation of this that has brought people of my generation back into the church. I am among the first of the baby-boomers, a generation that has been noticeable by its absence from the church. According to a NewsWeek poll about 30 years ago, roughly two-thirds of baby-boomers had dropped out of organised religion. But in the decades that followed, more than one-third of the drop-outs returned. Why? One of the reasons concerns the advent of parenthood and the realisation that their children needed to learn solid values and make friends with peers who share them.
One person, when asked who was influential in her faith development, replied, “My children! They have been my strength and, more often than not, the catalyst to stay serving God even when I felt I wanted to give up. I’d think about my kids and what would happen to them. It was a moral support.”
Men and women still face, in every generation, issues of identity, career goals, financial security, stability in relationships and mortality. Having searched and tried to find meaning in all sorts of things: adventure, financial gain, career success, power, etc, people are realising that the resources of the faith are what are vital in helping them negotiate the hopes and pains of daily life. In doing so, they are rediscovering what the ancient Israelites knew: that the source of life lies in God’s law.
Note that I have been using the singular when referring to God’s law. There is only one: the law of life and love. Human beings have often sought to express God’s law in black and white; in laws, rules, prescriptions and proscriptions. Sometimes these human laws have been helpful, e.g. do unto others as you would have them do unto you. More often they have been unhelpful, embodying less of God’s law than human fear, full of thou-shalt-nots. People are always happy to tell you what not to do, but we have had few rules which specify what to do that will lead to joy and happiness.
The world into which Jesus came was very much like a federation house which had been renovated each time a new owner came along until, with wooden windows replaced by aluminium, wood stoves replaced by electric ranges, open fireplaces filled with gas space heaters, wood panels and wall paper painted, and the outside clad with aluminium, it no longer was recognisable for what it was; all this done to make life easier, to keep up with the fashion of the day, in the belief that new must be better than old, or because change, for its own sake, is exciting.
The Pharisees oversaw the development of a host of laws which they mistakenly thought were equivalent to the Law of God which had blessed their ancestors. Jesus made a habit of challenging those laws, breaking them even. Yet he declared, as told by the author of Matthew, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly I say to you, till heaven and earth shall pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.” (5:17-18)
Jesus was not an original thinker. He came with nothing radically new. Rather he came as one to restore, just as one day someone buys that old federation house and removes all the tacked on goodies and restores it to its original glory. Jesus came to clear away the layers of human laws, by which people were oppressed and constrained, and to reinstate the Law of God which frees people and brings them wholeness and joy.
Where do we find this Law of God. The letter of John indicates that the testimony to the Truth is in each and every believer. There is an alternative to the testimony of human beings, an alternative to the laws by which we govern our world, and that is the law of God imprinted on human hearts wherein God’s Spirit dwells. We gather to bear witness to that Law. As Christians, we are called to support each other in our life together, living in the world, but not according to the world’s laws, so that we may declare to the world a new kind of living, in which the well being of the other is always put ahead of our own; in which judgment and justice no longer mean punishment and revenge, but reconciliation and peace; in which a sharing of the resources God has given does away with poverty; in which fear is washed away by torrent of God’s love flowing through every person on earth.
We know what God wants of us and for us. The truth is there in us. We may need some help to find it at times, but that is what we are here for: to help one another. I recall a saying by William Blake that went something like this: “We are here for a little while to help each other bear the beams of love.” Using the symbolism of Psalm 1, we are here to help one another find the streams of water – living water – so that we each may grow like a tree: strong, tall, and bearing fruit.
AN AFFIRMATION OF FAITH
R: It tears through every shadow in our world, and leaves a clarity brighter than the sun, and we name that light: God!
L: We believe in a love that crushes hatred,
R: and leaves a space for forgiveness, to rebuild, redesign, and re-create our world, and we name that love: God!
L: We believe in a truth that rips through injustice
R: revealing a different vision for our world: of freedom, fairness, and future, and we name that truth: God!
L: We believe in a hope that rattles oppressors,
R: shaping the intent of the Creator for a people destined for love, and we name that hope: God!
L: We believe in a time towards which all history travels,
R: where all our lives will be held, and bound into eternity, and we name that time: God!
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of all things seen and unseen, if you had insulated yourself from the pain of the world, then your name could not be love and our condition would be without hope. Thank you for being involved, for revealing your complete commitment in Jesus of Nazareth. Through him we pray with hope, in him we pray with love.
Let your healing love be known this day by all who suffer ailment of body, or distress of mind, or agony of spirit
Let your intimate love be known today by all who feel forgotten or lost,. and all who are walking in the dark valley of despair..
Let your fierce love this day redress the wrongs of all who suffer exploitation, injustice, abuse, neglect, violence or unwarranted imprisonment.
Let your nurturing love today encourage those who are gathering resolve to make tough decisions, take on new responsibilities, or break free from some bondage.
Let your relentless love this day upset congregations that have become self-centred or even contemptuous of other churches.
Let your reconciling love today gather together the separated Christians, and make them aware of the fellowship and mission of the one, universal body of Christ
Let your inspiring love this day rejuvenate pastors, priests and prophets who have become weary to the very roots of their souls. Please reveal your compassion, loving God, and bring wholeness to all.
Thank you for hearing us, most loving God. With the whole body of believers in time and eternity, we want to love, praise and serve you, today and evermore. Through Christ Jesus your true Son, who taught us to pray, “Our Father…”
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us in the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.
WORD OF MISSION
May you walk with God
in the daily unfolding,
in the sharp pain of growing,
in the midst of confusion,
in the bright light of knowing.
May you walk with God and live in God
and remain with God forever. Amen.
Go in peace. And may the Holy God surprise you on the way, Christ Jesus be your company and the Spirit lift up your life. Amen!